Why You Should Be a CoderDojo Mentor

Why You Should Be a CoderDojo Mentor

In this post I’d like to share with you why I think being a CoderDojo mentor is a great thing to be. Who knows…perhaps you might like to give it a try in 2018?

I’ve been involved with CoderDojo for over three years. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, CoderDojo is a world-wide network of free coding clubs for young people. There are now thousands of CoderDojo clubs (or ‘dojos’ as they’re known) across the world, including around twenty in Scotland.

I started as a CoderDojo mentor helping out at CoderDojo Stirling but quickly realised that there were young people who may be interested in coding living in communities where it was hard to access a CoderDojo club, and who weren’t getting the chance to take part in what the clubs had to offer them. With help from CoderDojo Scotland, I partnered with Thenue Housing Association and Netherholm Area Association in Glasgow and set up CoderDojo Castlemilk. After a year I saw an opportunity to start up another club, in the east end of Glasgow, and founded CoderDojo Bridgeton.

What happens at a Dojo?

Young people learn to make games, apps, websites, electronics projects etc. They get to play with all sorts of cool stuff like Scratch, Raspberry Pis, Arduino, littlebits, and Lego mindstorms. They chose what they want to learn, and with whom. They get to experiment, to play and to learn.

Interested in art? Let’s use P5.js to make some interactive web-based art.

Or maybe you’re more into music? Let’s make digital music with Sonic Pi.

What about making a hand-held game you can play with a friend? Let’s make one using two BBC Microbits.

Dojos are for all young people, regardless of their abilities or experience.

Dojos run in different ways, depending on the ages, interests and experience of the young people who attend. Some young people may know exactly what they want to make and may just need a little technical help from a mentor. Others may have less experience and need more structure.

Some may wish to work as part of a team while others prefer to work alone.

It’s all good.

What’s in it for the young people?

Fun

Dojos are fun and sociable places. They are environments for young people to enjoy themselves with their peers. But they are oh-so-much-more than that.

Learning techy stuff

Of course, young people come along to learn about coding. However, amongst all this talk of ‘digital natives’ it’s often surprising to see how little they know about the technology that’s so ubiquitious in their lives.

What techy stuff do they learn? It just depends. For younger children, learning to code with Scratch is popular. Once they’ve got that under their belt, some may progress onto Python, some onto web development, some onto physical computing and electronics, some onto robotics. There’s no curriculum and we try to respond to the interests of the young people.

Learning more than the techy stuff

The young people we work with don’t just develop their technical abilities. They also have a chance to develop those all-important social and communication skills too.

Let me tell you about one young lad (let’s call him D) who, the first time he attended a dojo was painfully shy, spoke very little and found it difficult to make eye contact with adults. As well as doing some amazing stuff technically over the past two years, that boy has also developed his confidence and ability to share his ideas and opinions. The transformation has been amazing. We’re so proud of him.

Working with people who code for a living gives young people a sense of building skills that are useful in the real world. At CoderDojo Bridgeton, one of our mentors is a highly-skilled electronics guru who’s worked with a young person to make robot arms and a self-lighting beanie which detects when it’s dark.

Another is a web developer who shares his knowledge with the industry-standard tools he uses day-in day-out with the young people he mentors to help them make their own cutting-edge websites.

What’s in it for you?

You get to share your interest/passion for technology.

You get to see the ‘Oh…I get it!’ moment on a child’s face when they’ve understood something because of the way you explained it.

You get to experience the deep pleasure in seeing a young person blossom and know that you’ve played your part in making that happen.

You get the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve possibly changed the course of a young person’s life by opening their eyes to a career they could pursue.

You’ll get to meet a load of fellow coding enthusiasts. We’re a lovely bunch! (Speaking for myself, I’ve had the chance to work with so many nice lovely people through CoderDojo, and made many new friends.)

If you’re anything like me, you’ll learn a lot of new things yourself!

Finally, it’s fun! It’s not just the young people who get to be creative and have a chance to play!

Want to find out more?

I hope this post has given you a sense of what CoderDojo is all about and why I’d definitely recommend getting involved. And if you’re thinking ‘mmm…sounds good but I’m really not that technical and don’t know if I’ve got enough to share’, don’t let that put you off. There’s a huge range of experience within the CoderDojo mentor community, and all are welcome. You’ll be given lots of support from the other mentors.

If you want to find out more, check out CoderDojo Scotland’s volunteer page.

Go on, give it a go…